RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Twice this month, President-elect Barack Obama unflinchingly took sides in one of this country's most contentious debates. Of course, we're talking about whether or not there should be a college football playoff. The president-elect says, absolutely. Most recently on CBS's "60 Minutes" this past Sunday.
(Soundbite of Obama interview on CBS News program "60 Minutes")
President-elect BARACK OBAMA: I don't know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this, so I'm going to throw my weight around a little bit. I think it's the right thing to do.
MONTAGNE: Will presidential weight be enough to change a much maligned, albeit lucrative college football system? NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN: What took the president-elect so long? That's what Yahoo sports national columnist Dan Wetzel wonders. Imagine, says Wetzel, if much earlier in the campaign, Obama had stumped for a college football playoff in places like Auburn, Alabama. People there, says Wetzel, hate the current system called the BCS because it excluded the 2004 undefeated Auburn Tigers from the national championship game.
Mr. DAN WETZEL (Sports Columnist, Yahoo): If he'd just gotten up there like Bill Clinton and said, I feel your pain, Auburn fans. The BCS must go. We must tear down this BCS wall. I honestly think if he had embraced this, he could have won 49 states. Alaska, with no college football team and Governor Sarah Palin, probably would have been impossible to topple. But everyone else would have gone his way.
GOLDMAN: The BCS, short for Bowl Championship Series, was created in 1998 as a way to isolate the top two teams so they could play for the championship. The teams are chosen using polls, computers, and assessment of how tough a team's schedule is. This format often has created a controversial ending to the season and an annual plea from a majority of college football fans, please let us have a playoff like nearly every other college and professional sport has.
The coordinator of the BCS, John Swofford, responded to Obama's plea this week saying, we welcome a dialogue on what's best for college football. And what's best is the current system. That system generates a huge amount of money for the major athletic conferences that make up the BCS. And yesterday, the BCS announced a new four-year $500 million TV deal with ESPN. It'll go into effect when the current deal with Fox expires.
Mr. JOHN OURAND (Reporter, SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily): ESPN's deal represents a 50 percent increase over what Fox had been paying.
GOLDMAN: John Ourand is a media reporter for SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily.
Mr. OURAND: Fox had been paying an average of about $82.5 million a year.
GOLDMAN: ESPN obviously believes the current system is valuable enough to cough up $125 million a year. Dan Wetzel of Yahoo sports says networks would pay even more money with a post-season playoff.
Mr. WETZEL: A playoff system in college football would rival the Super Bowl and the NFL playoff as the most watched and exciting sporting event in America.
GOLDMAN: The problem for playoff proponents, though, is that every weekend of the college football regular season right now is like a playoff. Just watch a lesser team upset a favorite. Fans storm the field. Players on the losing team look shell-shocked knowing they may not qualify for a prized BCS bowl game.
In those moments when the ratings and the attendants and the drama is high, the push for a playoff, even with a presidential nudge, gets overwhelmed by a feeling that college football is OK, and BCS officials everywhere smile. Tom Goldman, NPR News.